Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Memorial Day tradition

I sometimes wonder how people perceive me based on my blogs and status updates. We live in a world where people seem to be more open than ever before about their daily lives and yet appearances can be deceiving.

Take food for example. I may post all sorts of pictures of delicious looking food which may give the impression that I eat out all the time. So not true. The reality is that I'd love to eat out every day and I used to eat out a lot more than I do now but for the past year or so most of my meals are eaten right here at home. I do, however, know every spot on the peninsula where you can get a meal for under $5 so if I post a picture of a wonderful meal, it was either cooked and photographed by T, who makes everything look professionally done, or it was one of my budget specials. 

I'm also blessed to live in a tourist heaven. Drive 5 miles in any direction and you come upon scenery that looks like I've flown away to paradise for the weekend. Since I only feel like taking pictures when there's blue sky and sun, you also don't ever get to experience the days of clouds and fog that are so typical  here in the summer. I don't belong to the Chamber of Commerce for nothing!

It may also look like we always seem to be attending some event but that's because we live in a place that is brimming with free events and we take advantage of every one we can find. Food truck festivals, Italian festivals, BBQ cook-off festivals, concerts - you name it, we're there if the admission is FREE. I like to experience life, I enjoy learning new things and indulging my passions. For me, it's important to make the most of our time and live life to the fullest no matter what. And that brings me to today's post...you were curious where I was going with all this, weren't you?

The granddaddy of all the free events here on the peninsula has got to be the Memorial Day open house and concert at NPS. We go just about every year and it's the perfect way to kick off summer.

The concert is held on the grounds of the Naval Postgraduate School which is usually not open to the public (not since 2001) so just being allowed on the property is a big deal. And why would we care about getting onto the NPS property? Because it used to be a fabulous and famous hotel!

This was the first Hotel Del Monte from the 1880s and it looked like this (give or take a fire or two) until it finally burned down completely in 1924. Well not completely, the two wings on either side were saved and are still around today. The hotel was built by railroad pioneer Charles Crocker to give people an incentive to purchase a ticket all the way out to California. It was an instant success, the center of social life on the Monterey peninsula for visitors and locals alike.

In 1924 there was a terrible fire and they had to blow up the main building in order to stop the fire from spreading to the wings. They immediately started to rebuild but this time they chose a design in the new Spanish Revival architecture that was so popular in the 20s. The new building was concrete rather than wooden which made it fireproof, something probably very important after 2 major fires.

The new hotel was even more popular (truth be told the old Victorian hotel was getting a little passe for the Roaring 20s crowd) and soon became the weekend home to several celebrities of the day including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Other notable guests included Charles Lindgergh and Amelia Earhart, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.

Knowing how much I adore history from the 20s and 30s, you can imagine how much I love roaming these grounds. The Navy has done a wonderful job keeping the interior and exterior in prime condition so it's not hard to imagine what it would have been like to be there back in the Golden Age.

The Navy took over the property in the 40s for a flight school and bought it outright in 1951 so that they could move their graduate school there from Annapolis so it hasn't been a hotel in a very long time. I used to be sad about that but now I've realized that it probably would have fallen into disrepair like so manygrand hotels and could have been demolished and the property sold to developers long ago. We are blessed to still have it around all in one piece and it's such a thrill so see it every year.

Oh yeah, there's a concert too but I must admit that's not the priority for me. Actually, we tend to set up our chairs on the other side of the hotel, across from the reflecting pool and near the rose garden. In other words, away from the crowd.

The pool is new this year, new and old. There always was a pool there in the hotel days and even after the Navy moved in but eventually they filled it with sand for some reason so whenever we'd visit the tour guide would say "just imagine that this sand pit is a delightful Roman Plunge pool" and it was always kind of hard to imagine, even for someone like me, with an excellent imagination! Now it's nice to really see it. Apparently the pool was a big hangout for celebrities. The tour guides always like to mention that Jean Harlow used to skinny dip there.

There's a fantastic Art Deco ballroom that's now the scene of fancy weddings and military balls. In the 30s I imagine it saw a lot of multi-course dinners and fabulous parties with dancing and music till the wee hours.

When we go to NPS on Memorial Day we spend the whole day. We are there when the gates open at 9, stake out a place for our chairs and we stay until they kick us out. There's a special poignancy to the day since you know you won't be able to see any of it again until next year. I soak up all the atmosphere I can stand and linger as long as the scary, uniformed soldiers will let me. Au revoir Hotel Del Monte, can't wait to step in my time machine for a visit again next year!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I have a new love. We do a lot of our grocery shopping at a big, new-ish Latino supermarket in the next town, called Mi Pueblo. Since going there we've discovered a lot of new brands and I've discovered a whole new world of snack cakes.

Pinguinos have become one of my favorites. They are similar to the Hostess cupcakes I loved as a kid but they are lower in calories and less sweet, I think, so I can fit them into my daily routine without causing a diet meltdown. Not that I eat them every day...mostly.

Besides, who could resist cupcakes that are named after cute, little penguins? Not me, that's for sure. Time for a pinguino break!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Trooper update

Trooper had a rough first evening (or maybe it was us who had the rough time) and I'm pretty sure he was depressed for most of the next day. Who wouldn't be? He's missing the one constant in his life and is stuck in an unfamiliar place. But I'm happy to report that he seems to be settling in and more responsive. He was pretty out of it the first couple of days but now he looks for us when he gets inside, has started wagging his tail and is finally eating his food. He seems to prefer to be outside rather than in (it's all that fur, he's probably hot and it's always cooler outside) but he's happy enough to hang out inside with us after the sun goes down.

He's such an easy dog to take care of, not demanding at all, mostly sleeps and never, ever makes a sound. He's big and strong, if he didn't want to move you couldn't make him, but he's so easy going that all you have to do it tug on his collar and he moves wherever you want him to. Everybody seems to focus on the fact that he's blind but his blindness is so not a problem, he's already learned the yard and that he has to step down off the stoop to get out of the house. He can navigate our yard with no problem (and it's not an easy yard to get around in, no grass and lots of statuary and plants,) he has a natural grace so he never knocks anything down.

We got his blood work results today and he has low thyroid, anemia and the beginnings of kidney problems. The last part is scary because that's what happened to Jasper so we know how that goes. We had to give Jasper IV fluid twice a day the last few weeks which didn't end up solving the problem and caused all sorts of new ones. The thought of having to go through that again makes me sick to my stomach. Hopefully Trooper isn't at that point yet, I don't know what the future holds. Hopefully next week it holds a bath, tooth cleaning and a few other procedures at the vet. Well, *I* say hopefully, Trooper might have a different take on that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Super Trooper

As I mentioned before, we got Shifu through a wonderful organization called Peace of Mind Dog Rescue. They have a unique mission, they specialize in helping elderly owners find homes for their pets when they can no longer care for them as well as helping place senior dogs in homes as they are less likely to be adopted at the local shelter.

Now that we've adopted Shifu, we're on their mailing list so last week an email went out about a 15 year old St. Bernard mix named Trooper who had been living with his elderly person in a van for the last 2 years. The person was being placed in county housing and would not be able to take Trooper so POMDR was trying to find a foster home for him. Oh yeah, I should mention that Trooper is not only 15 but also blind and has arthritis. There probably weren't going to be people lining up for him.

I was taken in by his face right away, he had a Jasper look, and I mentioned him to T, who was willing to take him. But then I chickened out, we really aren't in a position to take on a new responsibility right now. I actually didn't give him another thought but apparently T did.

Fast forward to last night when another email came out about Trooper saying that no one had responded and he needed a home right away as his person was going into housing the next day. I didn't actually receive the email (sometimes the POMDR emails get rejected by my server) but T did get it (he is a volunteer photographer for POMDR) and he said something. I re-read the original Trooper email and burst into tears at the thought of this gentle dog having to be sent to the shelter when we could offer him a place to rest. But I was scared too. Let's face it, a 15 year old dog is going to break your heart sooner rather than later and my heart is barely holding together as it is. However sometimes you just KNOW what you have to do even if it doesn't make any sense.

We arrived at the drop off point earlier today and there was the owner waiting with Trooper. It was the hardest thing to have to watch this man say goodbye to the friend he had raised from a puppy. My heart broke for the obvious anguish he was going through and my tears flowed even more than his did. Hopefully it helped him to realize that his baby was getting a loving and caring home...and he didn't think I was some crybaby nutjob.

It's not going to be the easiest of transitions. Trooper is missing his person, wondering why everything familiar in his life has suddenly disappeared. He's blind in a brand new house and yard, that has to be slightly terrifying. But he's settling in and starting, slowly, to learn his way around our house and yard.

Shifu is not particularly happy about this turn of events, he was not a very gracious host at their first meeting, in fact, he was not very nice at all. Trooper, luckily, is the gentlest of souls and that has allowed Shifu an opportunity to calm down so that there is only a little growling from time to time now. Hopefully they will eventually become good friends.

The vet was surprised to hear that Trooper's age was 15 and said that by observing him and his energy level, he'd place him nearer to 10 so who knows how old he really is. He has bad arthritis in his front legs and needs to lose weight. He needs a teeth cleaning and a few other procedures. We'll get the results of his blood work back tomorrow and have a clearer picture of the next few weeks/months. We're just fostering him so all health decisions will be made by the rescue group.

We're thrilled that he's here and hope to give him a happy home for as long as we can. I certainly wasn't expecting this turn in my life and it is definitely not the least bit practical in our lives right now and yet, I know it's what we're supposed to be doing.

As I write this, both my fur-boys are sleeping soundly and peace reigns for the moment.

Yeah, I spoke too soon, had a little bit of an incident. Life isn't going to be boring.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


A local church sponsored a Blessing of the Animals today and Shifu felt like we could use a little of that so he made us take him over there. It was a really sweet time, lots of lovely stories of animals and their people. The event was to benefit Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, the organization from which we adopted Shifu, so we're always happy to help them.

Afterwards the dogs got a certificate stating that they were officially blessed. I think it's always nice to have confirmation of these things.

I guess God was smiling on all of us today because we couldn't have ordered more perfect weather. Thanks Pastor Norm and POMDR!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


As promised, here is photographic evidence of our day on the dunes.

We are blessed to live near the coast and really near a wonderful little park called Dunes which is perched above the bay. It's not easy to find this park as you have to travel through a semi-abandoned wasteland that used to be a thriving military base. The first time we tried to find it, I kept wanting to turn around because it was really creepy to be driving through neighborhoods of derelict buildings and tumbledown warehouses. I'm pretty sure I saw a ghost...or a crack house. Eventually though, I drove across the bridge and into paradise. It has become a favorite picnic spot on sunny days.

This is where we decided to set up camp today. Since the word safari is derived from the Swahili word kusafiri meaning "to travel," I kept calling our picnic spot safari camp since we had to travel so far (5 miles from home) to get there.

the gang's all here

safari camp essentials

Shifu made himself comfortable

Our safari camp was surrounded by water with amazing views especially if you walked over to the edge of the cliff.

It ended up being a lovely day with plenty of sunshine although a little too breezy at times and our little family had a wonderful outing.

Coming up tomorrow - Shifu finds religion at the Blessing of the Animals. But for now - all that fresh air makes me sleepy, time for a nap!

Fun day!

It's another one of those rare days where the sun was shining from the moment we woke up so we're all off for a family day at the park by the shore. Watch this space for pictures later today or tomorrow.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Help? No thanks.

I never ask for help. I've learned over the years that it's rather pointless. At least it is in my case, I know plenty of people who ask for  help and get it.

Oh, I should warn you, my inner cynic is in full force these days so if you don't want to be bombarded by negativity you should probably stop reading now.

When I was in high school my parents started having health problems. We belonged to a lovely church and frequently I would be there by myself on Sundays because one or both of my parents didn't feel up to attending. The people of the church always said 2 things to me -

How are your parents doing?


If there's anything we can do to help, just let us know.

I soon learned that last phrase is the most useless one in the English language. If I ever called someone to ask for a specific bit of help I would always get the same response - the pause. I learned to dread THE PAUSE on the other end of the phone. I could hear the other person's eyes darting back and forth as they tried to come up with an excuse because they didn't actually want to bother themselves to help, they had just wanted to make themselves feel better by offering.

I soon stopped asking.

To this day I will never say "just let me know what I can do to help" to someone else. I know no one MEANS to be insincere when they say it but their good intentions aren't much help when you are facing THE PAUSE. Nowadays when I offer help, I always try to come up with a specific thing I can do - how about if I bring over some meals for your freezer? Do you need someone to babysit while you get some time for yourself? Can I help you pick out pictures for the slideshow at the funeral? That way we all know I'm sincerely offering to help, not just speaking meaningless words to make myself feel virtuous.

The first "church people" phrase - how are your parents doing? - there's nothing wrong with that. It was nice of them to care enough to ask about my folks and I appreciated it. But, just once, I would have appreciated it being followed up by asking how I was. It was a big burden for a teenager to carry, dealing with parents who were facing life threatening conditions. I grew up fast and I often felt like I was dealing with it all on my own. Nobody meant to be unkind but because I wasn't one to moan and wail about things, people assumed I was just a naturally cheerful person and didn't need any emotional support.

It made me bitter. It made me assume that nobody cared enough to help and I've got to tell you, not much in the last few decades has come along to convince me to change that position.

It made me strong. So if nobody is going to exert any effort on my behalf, it doesn't matter because I can take care of myself. I have a friend who is always on the edge of disaster but she's very vocal about it and so she now drives a "borrowed" car and often has her rent paid by friends. Yeah, a part of me is jealous. A big part. But I wouldn't want to rely on help on a permanent basis so at least I've learned to take care of myself. My family has never bailed me out, bought me a car, paid for my school, contributed to my upkeep, paid for my vacations, paid my mortgage, bought me a computer or any of the other situations that most of my friends have found themselves in. I have never asked a friend for a loan, I've rarely even asked a friend for a favor. It never occurs to me to ask for help because the few times I've tried have been a let-down. But that's ok, I've learned what I can endure over the years and I know I'm a strong person. I'm not going to be incapacitated by panic attacks just because life got screwy.

So what brought on all this, you ask? Some stupid little thing. I asked for something recently, something really simple and easy that required no effort at all and 3 people responded. A friend asked for the very same thing and 60 people responded.

You just have to laugh sometimes..